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Bird Baths 101

Choosing, Placing, Maintaining & Cleaning Your Bird Bath

Female Cardinal in bird bath

Water is one of the most important things you can add to your backyard to attract birds. All bird species need water, and adding one or more water features to your deck, yard, patio or garden will quickly attract feathered friends.
Birds need water for two reasons: drinking and preening. Water helps keep a bird’s body cool both from the inside and outside. Water baths also help remove dust, loose feathers, parasites and other debris from a bird’s plumage. Offering water in your backyard will attract more birds than just food sources, since birds that would not normally visit feeders can be tempted by water features.

Bird baths are the fastest, easiest way to add water to your backyard bird habitat. A bird bath provides a welcome oasis for your local and migrating birds.
Maintaining a fresh, clean bird bath is an important way to keep birds hydrated, clean, and disease-free.

A dirty bird bath is a hazard in a bird-friendly backyard. Not only is stagnant, contaminated water uninteresting to the birds, but it can also carry diseases that can spread to an entire backyard flock. A dirty bath smells and may attract mice, rats and other unwanted pests.

Mosquitoes can also breed in stagnant, unclean water, making a dirty bird bath a hazard even for humans. Nobody wants mosquitoes anytime of the year, but they can be really bad news in the fall. While summer may be prime insect time, autumn is an especially high-risk season for diseases. With more birds crowding at your bath during migration, there’s a higher chance of viruses being spread.


Dove in ground level bird bath

Choose a bath that fits well with your garden décor, personality, and style preferences to ensure that you can enjoy it even without birds.

There are generally two types of bird baths:

Pedestal: These classic bird baths stand three to four feet above the ground and include a post-style base on an elevated dish.

Dish: A simple saucer or shallow bowl can be used for a dish bird bath. Dishes can be used at different heights by being placed on the ground, a fence, patio table, stump or steps. Popular options include hanging dishes and models that attach to deck railings.

See Sunny with Thunderstorms beautiful line of bird baths.

Design & Construction
Concrete, ceramic, and plastic bird baths are the most common materials used in the construction of bird baths. Other popular materials include metal, particularly copper or brass, glass, stone, or shell mosaics, with marble or granite being used for especially for elaborate fountains.

Which construction material you choose for a bird bath is largely a matter of personal preference. Some materials, such as ceramic and glass mosaics, are more delicate than sturdier materials such as concrete and plastic. Many people choose bird baths that match other decorative elements in their gardens or yards.

The best bird baths are designed with birds in mind. A narrow lip is a more comfortable perch for small birds, and the material of the bath should offer some texture for tiny talons to grip. An ideal basin is 1-2 inches deep, and some models include both shallow and deep areas of the basin to accommodate birds of different sizes.

The height of the birdbath is critical for which birds will readily drink from it. Smaller birds are comfortable at taller baths that give them a better field of view, while larger birds such as doves, quail, and ducks prefer to drink from ground level basins.


Blue birds in bird bath

An often overlooked aspect, where you place your bird bath is an important decision and will add more or less work for you depending on where you put it.

Keep these recommendations in mind:

  • Position the bird bath away from feeders so spilled seed and bird excrement will not land in the water.
  • Choose a shady spot to minimize algae growth and slow evaporation.
  • Position the birdbath close to but not directly under woody trees and brush, where it will not be clogged by falling leaves and other debris.
  • Pick a spot that offers you relatively easy access to it. You will need to access it often for maintenance and cleaning.


Thoroughly clean the bird bath at regular intervals. The frequency depends on many factors including the weather, the quality of your water, the location of the bird bath, and the number of birds using it. The best advice is to clean the bird bath whenever you begin to see discoloration of the water or on the bottom of the birdbath basin. At certain times of year—during the hot months of summer or the fall when leaves are falling into the birdbath, for example—you may find it necessary to clean more often.

Follow these steps to clean your bird bath:

  • Use a solution of one part distilled white vinegar to nine parts water to scrub the birdbath thoroughly. Skip the synthetic soaps and cleansers; they can strip the essential oils off bird feathers.
  • Scrub the basin, lip, and any area of the birdbath where the birds can land, perch, drink or bathe. For extremely dirty birdbaths, it may be necessary to allow the vinegar solution to soak for several minutes, but monitor or cover the bath during that time to be sure no birds drink. The amount of scrubbing required depends on the material your bird bath is made out of. Elaborate bird bath designs with detailed sculptures or delicate mosaics can be more challenging to keep clean and free from damage. Simpler styles, such as concrete birdbaths or basic plastic basins, maybe the best choice for ease of cleaning and overall durability. Some materials, such as glazed basins or copper birdbaths, may stay naturally cleaner.
  • Rinse the birdbath thoroughly with running water until there is no persistent foaming.
  • Allow the birdbath to dry completely. This is a good opportunity to clean the area around the birdbath, refill feeders or do other bird-related chores.
  • Refill the bath with fresh, clean water.

MAINTAINING between Regular Cleanings

The easiest way to clean a bird bath is to ensure it doesn’t get too dirty. While all bird baths will eventually need to be cleaned, there are steps that can be taken to minimize the need for frequent cleanings.

  • When refilling the bird bath, dump out the stagnant water instead of just adding more.
  • Spray the bath with jetted water to help rinse out any sticky debris.
  • Consider adding enzymes approved for wildlife consumption or a copper source to the water to help keep the bath clean and minimize algae growth.
  • Keep the bird bath full to avoid concentrating pollutants in smaller amounts of water.


Moving water will attract more birds because the motion catches their eye and they can hear any dripping, sprinkles or splashes. Adding a fountain, water wiggler, or mister accessory to a standing birdbath adds motion easily.
The best bird bath for your yard is one that you can use all year round.

For northern regions: Update your bath for the winter by adding a heater. Heaters for bird baths do no create warm water, but generally keep it from completely freezing. You can pick one up at most home improvement or birding stores. You can also find DIY versions and even for ones with solar power options

If you live in warmer areas, you may opt for a bird bath with a larger capacity that will not evaporate in just a few hours. You can also consider adding a dripper to keep the bath replenished with fresh water during times of high usage and evaporation.